Lola (2009)

3/5

Grandmother

Philippines; Brilliante Mendoza 

All Audiences

 

In contemporary Manila, two ageing matriarchs battle to raise money and save their families, wrecked by the same tragedy: a petty theft that degenerated into a murder. Sepa (Anita Linda) lost her grandson, and has to arrange the funeral and keep her clan afloat, but finds herself increasingly helpless and irritable as she loses the physical capacity to carry on the struggle. Puring (Rustica Carpio) is devastated when she hears her own grandson is arrested for “theft with homicide”, but tends to him with an infinite tenderness and sets to obtain the money for his bail bond. Both weak and poor, the two will nevertheless defy all odds with an unblinking grit and cunning.

Mendoza’s extreme minimalism makes for a tough sell, and the limits of this quasi-documentary approach are nowhere more evidently tested than in his 8th cinematic effort. An overlong, static, arid endeavor, subsequently easily off-putting, Lola has nevertheless something to say, about the Philippian society but also about mankind generally. It is a movie fraught with touching, humane moments. Why those never boil down to an enthralling, truly poignant whole. Why is Lola such a disappointment?

It is, compared to Kinatay – Mendoza's previous effort –, a much more gentler experience. Charting the mundane hardships of two grandmothers dedicated to the survival of their families, Mendoza wanted Lola to be his great epopee of ordinary people. But the ensemble lacks narrative élan, vim and warmth to such a point that one might start to wonder whether this frightful apathy is not, in fact, carefully analyzed and thought over. The result is, anyway, a film reveling in his laziness, ultimately devoid of ambition and very unlikely to reach a wider audience. Surely, Philippian cinema can do better.

However, one cannot deny this film a definite documentary quality. Mendoza’s camera films the crammed, bustling streets of Manila (a city you won’t see in another movie any time soon) with virtuosity, capturing brief, touching verités bits en passant. Whether such brief scenes and dialogues are actually scripted or just happen to be in the movie is open to debate, but they have undeniably a refreshing effect.

All in all, if Lola is less than the sum of its parts, it is nevertheless worth a look. Nor a particularly enjoyable experience throughout, neither a very affecting one, Lola is however interestingly directed and nicely acted. And if you know to appreciate slow-burning movies, you might even find the experience rewarding.

 

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